Archive for January, 2013

31
Jan
13

W. S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius (2008)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 11, which was published circa January 2009.

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W. S. Merwin's – The Shadow of SiriusDoes W. S. Merwin’s newest book, The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press), need a review from me  . . . a mortal? Probably not, but not for the reasons you might think. Quite often in this book I think Merwin transcends time, and he succeeds in actually yoking together his whole life:

   that I would descend some years later
   and recognize it
   there we were all together
   one time                    			
                                             (“Europe,” 28)

The now, the past, and the present become one, not just because he says so, but because you can feel it through his use of verbs. He uses simple verbs like “is,” “was,” and “will be” in a complicated reflective-visionary-staring-into-the-now manner and in an easy to read manner, and those two modes, in part, create this timeless effect.

To a larger extent, Merwin continues to write to the large past and the large future and the large present of poets – he talks to them all simultaneously, which may be even easier than yoking together his life.

Oh, there’s obviously more to this book than time, his time, and humanity’s time. There is his new experimentation with line breaks, which has subtle and interesting effects on the Merwinian tone. This undertaking is much like an older John Coltrane experimenting with bending notes in a Seattle concert, but it is easier on the ears. Yes, there’s much more than time and line breaks, like words:

   apparently we believe
   in the words
   and through them
   but we long beyond them
   for what is unseen
   what remains out of reach
   what is kept covered      		
                                        (“Raiment,” 26-7)

Yes, Merwin is still relevant, strong, and uncovering more great poetry for us.//

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Merwin, W. S. The Shadow of Sirius. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2008.//

30
Jan
13

James Longenbach’s Draft of a Letter (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 10, which was published circa April 2007.

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James Longenbach – Draft of a LetterIn a previous issue of Redactions, we put out the question, “Can you use ‘soul’ in contemporary poetry?” Many poets responded with fine answers. Somehow Longenbach got wind of this question, as he mentioned in a reading at Writers & Books in Rochester, NY, & though he didn’t respond to the question through Redactions, he did respond. Longenbach, instead, explored using “soul” in poetry in Draft of a Letter (University of Chicago Press), & he succeeded. He affirmed what most of our responders said to the question said: Yes.

It’s not like every poem has “soul” in it, but, ah, they all have soul. You can feel it in the lines. The slow lines with long pauses at their ends. The implication of each line is: “Hey, reader/listener, read & listen. When my line ends, hold on to it for a moment. There’s more magic that will happen if you stop before making the turn. The unexplainable occurs here. Listen to the reverberations. Listen for the echo of the line that is about to arrive.” And then Longenbach, in a way, tells us this in these lines, which are not directly about poetry:

   In time,
   Without trying,
   I found a rhythm
   Of thought ineffably
   Hesitant, serene.
                              (“Draft of a Letter”)

I also want to mention one more thing that I hadn’t planned to talk about until I read Christian Wiman’s Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet [which appears in an earlier review]. My first encounters with Longenbach were his critical books on poetry and Modernism. All very good and intelligent, which you can gather from an early review/celebration of mine in Redactions on The Resistance to Poetry. Between that review and Draft of a Letter, I read Fleet River, which is a fine book of narrative poems, with wonderful vertical moments ( that is, Li-Young Lee vertical moments and not the vertical moment I mention in the Dan Gerber A Primer on Parallel Lives celebration/review). So Wiman says two things:

I have little patience for people who see the application of critical intelligence as somehow inimical to poetic creation. (p 61)

The worth of a poet’s critical awareness will have been determined by the truth and intensity of the poetic activity that preceded it, the depth to which he descended in his poems. (p 62)

I agree totally with those two statements, and I’m overwhelmed when a person can both be critically intelligent and have intense poems, especially when the poems are accessible. And Longenbach does this. The poems in Draft of a Letter are accessible with a music of tones and with rhythms of a soul that have found depth, or a person who found the depths of his soul.

Yes, Longenbach can play both sides of the ball, well.//

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Longenbach, James. Draft of a Letter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.//

29
Jan
13

Interview with Rock & Sling Editor – Thom Caraway

One of my favorite literary journals is Rock & Sling. I remember the women who founded the journal asking me questions about how to start a journal. They asked me circa 2003 when I had only published one or two issues of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics. My advice was very limited. I can’t imagine what I could have told them. Now, it is being run out of Whitworth University by Thom Caraway. Under his editorial management, Rock & Sling have been creating journals that are beautiful to hold and putting together journals with the conscientiousness that goes into making a well-designed book. Inside each issue there are also good stories and poems.

On Wednesday, May 16, 2013, during my Publishing class at The University of Southern Mississippi and taught by Angela Ball, I learned that one of my assignments would be to give a presentation about a literary journal of our choice. Rock & Sling was the first journal that came to my mind. I then went home, and asked Caraway if he wanted to participate. He agreed. I quickly typed up questions for him to answer. While these answers came quick, they had lots of thought behind them. Since I now have about 11 years experience in publishing (instead of just one or two), I knew what types of questions to ask. Because I knew Caraway’s love of journals and books and putting them together, I knew what questions to ask him, and I also knew what questions I would want asked of me. So the questions arrived with ease. In addition, I asked questions that would be of more direct concern to the other students in the class and to those who are considering submitting their work to Rock & Sling. I emailed Caraway the questions the same night. One week later, he sent me his responses, which appear below.

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As I recall, Rock & Sling was started by two ladies in Spokane, WA, around 2003. Who were those ladies, how long did they run the journal, and did it have the same focus as the journal currently does?

Susan Cowger, Kris Christenson, and Lori Klein. The journal came to us through Susan, whose daughter had attended Whitworth University. They were “a journal of faith, art, and literature.” Or “literature, art, and faith.” Some combination of those words. It seemed like all of the faithy journals had some combination of those. We simplified to “a journal of witness.” It captured the essence of what we wanted, and I think we’ve stayed true to the original mission, though we probably define “faith” more broadly than Susan did.

What prompted them to turn it over to Whitworth University and when did that happen and were you there when it occurred?

We got it in 2009. It had gone on hiatus in 2008, looking for a stable funding source. It was totally independent, but Susan and the other original group couldn’t subsidize it any more. I came in on the second or third meeting. Our department was generally in favor of it, but they didn’t really know how to make it go. I was the faculty advisor for the school’s undergrad journal, and that fall, I had also pitched a class in editing and book design. So it at least looked like I knew what I was doing. I spent the next couple months convincing various administrators that it was good for the university. That’s an on-going battle.

How did you get involved in becoming the Editor-in-Chief, especially considering that you teach full time and run Sage Hill Press?

It wasn’t going to go if they couldn’t get an editor. None of the other faculty had any experience in running a magazine, and I didn’t either, but I’d done Willow Springs and North Dakota Quarterly during my grad programs, so I kind of convinced them I knew what I was doing. My experience with Sage Hill Press certainly helped. I knew some design, and enough of the marketing and business side to sound reasonably confident. It turned out there was plenty I didn’t know. Teaching the editing and design class really helped, since I could make the business/marketing end of things part of the curriculum and sort of teach myself as I went.

What knowledge did you bring from running a press to running a journal?

It helped to know how a book gets put together (how to pick economical paper and an efficient trim-size, etc.), the printing side of things, and knowing the indie publishing biz. I knew where to go to find things, and had contacts at other presses and journals I could go to for help.

Does the journal help you run the press in any manner? Do you learn things from it that makes your press more effective?

The great thing about a journal is how many authors you can publish at a time. I was used to working with one author at a time, usually for 6-12 months, refining the manuscript, and putting it all together. The journal gave me access to a bigger base of authors. So I’ve solicited some authors we worked with on the journal to submit a book for Sage Hill. It’s also given me a better understanding of marketing and distribution.

On the other hand, the journal takes up much of my non-teaching time, so the press hasn’t maintained the kind of production schedule I’d like.

One of my favorite things about Rock & Sling is the colophon. Not many journals do that. What prompted you to include colophon? And how often do you change the typeface?

TrajanFor me, I can’t really design a book until I know what the type will be. I’ll experiment with type for hours, sometimes days, until I find the right one. It has to fit the book, speak to the personality of the book, become a vessel for the text. But for books, it’s different, because the personality of the text is more unified. It all came from the same author. With the journal, the personality comes from the journal itself, as much as it does from the text. And the text varies wildly, so the type needs to be adaptive and versatile. It needs to speak in a variety of languages. Once I found the right one, and I knew it the minute I’d set any text in it, I wanted to know everything I could about it. The type was Perpetua, the designer Eric Gill. Eric Gill was an interesting dude, and designed a number of persistent types. The colophon itself probably goes back to a design class (which you were in) during my MFA days at Eastern Washington University. Christopher Howell taught that class, and talked at length about type, and the importance of choosing just the right one for books. Or maybe it’s just something I got obsessed about as a designer later. I had the standard palette, I think. Garamond, Palatino, Caslon. I started exploring. I also started to notice colophons, often in Copper Canyon books. It added a depth of meaning to the book. Not only did the writer put a lot of time and life and love into the creation of the manuscript, but the designer was also intentional about how the book was set, which was explained in the colophon. That fascinated me. And like any amateur, I imitated until I understood. For me, Perpetua is the personality of  the journal. It’s beautiful, versatile, and engaging. It creates its own kind of interest, but doesn’t overwhelm the text. The colophon was a way of conveying that, the debt we owed not only to the authors, but to the type designer.

I’m not sure the type will ever change for the body of the journal. I just love Perpetua. Everything I submit is set in it. Poems. All of my syllabi. Letters of recommendation. Many of my students now use it, and our poetry editor has adopted it as well. For our first four issues, the titles were set in Perpetua Titling, which is an all-caps type. I wasn’t wild about it, but it was consistent with the body. Before laying out 8.1 (our fifth issue), I lost the template from those first four issues on a crashed hard-drive. We reconsidered everything (save the body type), from trim size to title types, page-styles, titles, layout, etc. We’re actually going with a new title type, and a new master-page style (in the footer), as well as a different rule style. When you are in the rhythm of journal production, it seems impossible to consider changing things. I don’t know why that is. Probably because there is so much other stuff going on; it’s too overwhelming to consider a redesign of the whole thing. I also want a consistency in our shelf presentation. If people have several years of our journal on their shelves, I want it to look good. So after all of that reconsideration, we kept the same trim size and spine text. But I’ve changed some of the more extraneous elements. But it took months to arrive at the right balance. We’ve gone with a slab sans-serif title type, League Gothic (from the excellent League of Moveable Type), which works well with Perpetua, set in a half-tone black. I’m pretty happy with it. We’ve also messed with the master-page, the size of it, and what’s in it. For me, the design of the book, being the most consistent personality element given the ever-changing nature of the work we accept, has to be precise, so people know they are reading something good, even before they get to the content. 

Why isn’t there a colophon in the current issue?

It’s expensive to print on the inside of the cover. Also, for that issue, we had space. In coming issues, I’d like to move it to the interior, maybe as the last page of the journal.

What typeface is your favorite and what typeface do you think works best for text pages? for covers? and for online?

Perpetua. It’s just beautiful. The Roman and the italic. I use it for almost everything now. I also like Californian for text. Garamond is a classic, and very versatile. Caslon is elegant, but not suited for all purposes.

TrajanFor covers, I love Trajan, but it’s become very popular. I don’t think you can ruin Trajan through overexposure, but I haven’t used it much lately. It’s one thing if it’s the title type for The West Wing, another entirely if I’m seeing it in terrible flyers posted around campus or in elevators. Perpetua Titling is what we used for the first four issues, and it’s a big, wide-based, solid title type, but it feels a little heavy sometimes, heavy-handed. We used it for titles as well, and have moved away from it for both with the new issue. I used Perpetua lower-case this time around, though we kept the ampersand in Poor Richard. That creates some problems. In the same size as what’s around it, it’s too big, so every time I use it, I have to isolate it and manually change the size and kerning to get it spaced just right. I like doing that kind of stuff though, the kind of stuff only I really notice, like shrinking the kerning, or the font-size of blank spaces.

I’ve been playing around with some gothic sans serif type for covers. I like League Gothic, and Gear, and pretty much anything at Lost Type or the League of Moveable Type. The internet is such a great resource for designers now. You can find pretty much anything, between Dafont and the other warehouse sites, and most of it is free. Still, lots of stuff doesn’t always mean lots of good stuff, so I stick with what I know for the most part. Nothing too showy or flashy. I never want to overwhelm the actual text with the typography.

Online, I appreciate tall, slender sans serif type. I like Gill Sans, and though it’s maybe a little basic, Franklin Gothic is nice, too. And boring old Calibri is a very readable screen type, though I am not a fan of it in print.

Another thing I like about the journal is the covers. They are always so beautiful. Where do you find the artwork and who does the cover design?

I handle cover design, which I love doing, despite my limitations as a designer. I’ve never taken a class in design or anything, so I always feel like I’m missing out on some cool stuff I could be doing. But, I can place art on a page, and move text around, and so far that’s been working.

When we first got started, I couldn’t get any of our overworked art faculty to sign on as art editor. I said I’d do it in the interim, but as it turned out, I didn’t really know any artists. One of my colleagues in the English department, Fred Johnson, kept asking me if I knew such and such artist. After a few of these, I started making a list and checking them out. Turns out he was connected to a lot of artists through his time at Ball State, and they were all fantastic. So I just started emailing them. Some have been hesitant to commit to covers for an ostensibly faith-based journal. Some have said no, for that reason. After the Gala Bent and dan Baltzer covers (6.1 and 6.2), I thought I’d make it look like I was at least trying, so I started asking the artists themselves for recommendations. So dan led me to Jeffrey Youngblood for 7.1, and he recommended Emelie Anskog for 7.2. I’ve been pretty happy with the results.

For this particular issue (volume 7, issue 2), there’s a lot of risk in the design. The logo is right up against the edge of the cover. That’s risk because the exactness of trim is not perfect. Many publishers would have pulled the logo in a bit. And the same for the art work. A lot of risk is taken in putting the picture into the bleed and also in cutting off part of the picture, but I like how the art exceeds the cover? Did you feel you were taking risks when designing this cover? How did you feel about those risks? Do you often take those risks when developing covers? (I also ask because in a previous version of this cover, which is on Facebook, the logo was on the left with a safe distance from the spine and the volume/issue/year information was on the right and vertical and a safe distance from the edge of the cover.)

Rock & Sling 7.2 Final Cover

Rock & Sling Volume Seven Issue Two 2012 Final Cover

Rock & Sling 7.2 Draft

Rock & Sling Volume Seven Issue Two 2012 Draft Cover

I was so scared for 6.1, I did stuff fairly straightforward. I wanted it to look great, and not piss anyone off. After that one came out, a designer friend and I got to talking over beers, and he suggested I start messing with placement. He said, “Try turning the title text box vertical. Move it around.” I’d never thought of that, and I loved it, so tried it for 6.2. Our name isn’t even all the way on the front cover for that issue. I placed it so it’s half on the front and half on the spine. My theory is just to get out of the way of the art. I love the art. I want people to see the art.

So then I started moving the logo and other elements around. I really like the logo bleeding off the page a little, like who we are is incidental to the work we are publishing. It freaks our printers out. They always want me to move it in or up a ¼ inch. The only cover where we lost a bit of the content was 6.2. dan’s work has so much going on in it, and I cut an inch or so off one side to get it to fit vertically on the page. If I’m going to bleed it, I make sure that what is cut is still implied by what remains. And the artists have all been pretty happy (as far as I know) with their covers. I could shrink the art down to fit the cover, and frame it with a solid-color bar or something, but that’s just boring to me. The only reason I can see for that is to make sure people get a good look at the name of the journal. That’s much less important to me.

I think some journals might get a little used to themselves. I worked for North Dakota Quarterly, which has looked the same for forty years. Same size, same gothic type, same white cover and spine, same kind of cover image. That’s great, to have traditions like that, but one thing I love about journals is how responsive they can be, so I’ve been hesitant to make the issues look the same, at least on the outside. If I have to move our issue info to the back to feature the art more effectively, then that’s what I’ll do. If anyone is going to pick up the journal, it will be for the art, not for what issue number it is. So that stuff can go on the back if it needs to. Each issue has its own personality, which starts with the art. I like to think that we are conforming to what we get, rather than conforming or choosing material based on who we are.

As for the text page design. The title of the poem/story is all in caps, below that is a line that extends most of the width of the page, below that is the author’s name in gray, then there is some white space between the author’s name and poem or story. Also in the footers, the page number is black and Rock & Sling is gray. What overall effect do you think that creates?

Similar to my design aesthetic with art and the cover (get out of the way), I think the work is more important than the author. We went back and forth before the first issue. Some designs had the author info on top and bigger than the title info. I just didn’t like it. For me, the shape of the page is big title (“ooooh”), author, in a half-tone (“who’s that, oh, there’s the poem . . .”), and then to the work (“aaaah”). The author’s name is off set, and the title and text align with each other, so a straight line connects them. I wouldn’t mind moving the author’s name elsewhere, but I don’t think authors would like that (as an author, I wouldn’t like that).

With 8.1, I moved to a different type for the titles. Perpetua Titling is an all-caps type, and it just felt too big. So there is more distinction now between title and text, and I changed the rule from a heavy line of left-slashes to a lighter double thin line. The authors are in a small-caps Perpetua, and solid (the titles are half-tone now). We switched from an offset printer to a digital printer, and smaller half-tones (<10 pt) looked like crap (you can tell in 7.2). So the half-tone is on a larger slab sans serif type, and should print better. [For a good article about the difference between offset and digital printing, go here: http://www.printlocal.com/offset-digital-printing.htm.]

As for the footer elements, those are different now, too. I love the design of Versal, and they have massive page numbers in the footer, so I beefed up ours a little (18 pt League Gothic), and switched out “Rock & Sling” for just the Poor Richard ampersand. It looks maybe too contemporary, and probably will only last a few issues before I start to feel self-conscious about it.

CLMPI see you are member of CLMP. What does this do for the journal?

CLMP is a good resource for marketing and administrative information, plus it gets us on their lists and makes us look like a legitimate journal. It doesn’t cost much, and the resources are really useful, as are the list-servs. There’s lots of experience to draw from, which, given my lack of knowledge at the outset, was really important.

On the copyright page, it reads:

The editors of Rock & Sling believe that the act of writing and of reading literature is a way of witnessing to the truth of experience, drilling down to the core of language’s vitality, and accepting an understanding of artistic language as a kind of testimony. The word “Witness” means to testify: to tell the truth. The demands of the word are bracing in its charge to the writer to understand that his and her work matters not just as expressions of experiences and responses but as an active language engaged morally as well as aesthetically. To tell the truth is an act of responsibility as well as an expression of hope. To testify is an act of responsibility as well as an expression of faith.

Why do you have this theme? How is it different than, say, Image.

That definition was written by our poetry editor, Laurie Lamon, when we took over the journal. We use it as a framework for understanding our mission as a “Christian” journal. We publish a lot of work that isn’t overtly faith-based, at least in Christian terms. (I think specifically of your Paleolithic poems). But that work engages ideas of faith, or of something bigger than itself. Whatever you call it, that’s faith, which means it involves God, or god, or divinity.

As far as how we are different than a journal like Image, I’d say that on the surface, we really aren’t  We’re probably the AAA ball-club for Image, and that’s fine. But I think we are also perhaps more responsive to what Christian or faith-based literature could be or is headed toward. Image has a tradition. Every issue looks the same, and generally, every issue sounds the same. It’s a good sound, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be publishing Pattianne Rogers, Gregory Orr, and B. H. Fairchild. They get great writers. But I think we are better able to take risks, because we don’t have much of a reputation at stake. And things are going on, especially in the evangelical church, that art will need to respond to, that won’t look or sound like traditional mainline Christian art. And that’s kind of where I want us to live.

With such a religious theme, what type of submissions do you receive and how do you decide what to publish?

Laurie and I agreed at the outset that our final consideration for taking a piece of any kind was “Does it demand to be published.” We get a lot of poems called “Psalm.” Lots of retellings or rehashings of familiar Bible stories. Poems or stories from Judas’ POV, or Lazarus’. Lots of annunciation poems. A lot of what you’d expect for a Christian journal. But the best pieces are those that are comfortable with ambiguity, those that acknowledge that doubt is a facet of faith, that in fact, one is meaningless without the other. That’s the central tension of most of the work we publish, I think, though it takes many forms. In that way, I don’t think we’re that different than any lit journal. Is it beautiful? Does it move me in some way? Beauty, even terrible beauty, is an expression of faith. I guess that seems apologetic of sorts. For me, beauty implies aesthetics, and aesthetics requires a big, pure, perfect Something. We call that God, but you don’t have to, and we like work that inhabits some space in between.

Part of my mission as the editor of a Christian literary journal is to show people what Christian lit can be. It isn’t all easy answers, Scripture, and parables. Lived faith is never easy, and the art that comes from it shouldn’t be either.

I’m an atheist with hope, and you’ve published me. Do you think you’ve published other atheists? Do you recognize a difference in poetry between atheists and those who believe in something other?

God, I hope we’ve published other atheists. I was an atheist when I took over the journal, or at least a hopeful agnostic. We don’t have a Shibboleth or anything. The work speaks for itself, and using your poems (or Jeff Dodd’s “Dear Russel Nakagawa” poems in 8.1) as an example, the work demonstrates a kind of faith, regardless of the writer’s beliefs. My favorite pieces we’ve published aren’t explicitly Christian. But as Jonathan Johnson always said, “You’re subconscious is smarter than you are.”

How do you generate submissions?

I have no idea. People knew us from before we took over, and we still get submissions from them, though we probably publish fewer of those folks now. So there is some previous name recognition. Mainly, I think it’s having a good-looking book and taking it to AWP. Our submissions always spike after AWP. We typically get 250-300 submissions a month. Ad swaps with other journals help, I think. We swap with folks like Sugar House Review and Weave Magazine, and some bigger journals, like Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, and Willow Springs. That gets our name out there. Probably half of our website hits come off of searches for “Christian literary journal.” So being a kind of niche helps. We get somewhat higher submissions from places where I know we are selling the journal in stores, or have it in libraries. But we get stuff from all over the world, which is awesome. I really wish I understood how people knew about us, or why they submit work. I hope it’s because the journal looks great, and the work is awesome, and people want to be a part of that.

What do you look for in a submission? That is, do you want a cover letter? What do you want in the cover letter? What’s a perfect submission for you, aside from quality poems and stories?

Ah, cover letters. I train my interns not to read them. I always read them. I like parsing the bullshit. I remember one author, when I was poetry editor at Willow Springs, with a full page of publishing credits. I had never heard of 10% of them. So I started looking them up. Maybe they were so local or small that they had no web presence or even Google hits. But most of them were made up. I kind of loved that. So I have a pretty cavalier attitude about cover letters. I’d rather a cover letter told me a good joke then tried to convince me that I should publish something because The Kenyon Review or Tin House published them. At the same time, I’ll probably read something a little closer if they’ve been published in The Kenyon Review or Tin House.

A perfect submission follows the guidelines (upload each poem separately, not as one doc with five pages), has a three-sentence cover letter (“You guys are awesome. Love the design. Hope you like these poems/this piece.”), and blows me away from the first sentence or line of the submission.

Are you pro or con Submittable.com? If you use it, what benefits does it have over email?

I admit to some nostalgia for the days of snail mail submissions, and writing comments on the envelopes, the arguments for various sizes of envelope. But I love Submittable. We got on board when we started up (after having met Michael FitzGerald at AWP), when they were still Submishmash and cheeky. It has built-in organization, which I lack entirely. It catalogs and archives efficiently, it tracks information I’d be too lazy to input, and it makes it easy to get work out to lots of readers, and to comment on that work. I’ve never used Submission Manager, but I don’t see any reason I would switch. And beyond that, it’s still free. That’s amazing, considering the service.

Do you take postal submissions? Why or why not?

No. I lose them, or forget to respond.

The journal has an Editor-in-Chief, which is you, and a poetry editor, prose editor, web editor, managing editor, assistant editor, and assistant prose editors. What do these roles do? How many are students, professors, and contractors?

The poetry editor is faculty. The nonfiction editor is staff, a senior editor in University Communications. (She has an MFA, and serves as the craft essay editor for Brevity, a terrific online creative nonfiction journal, probably the best there is.) Our prose editor is currently an alum, and three-year assistant, a terrific writer and editor. The managing editor is the English department program assistant (Annie Stillar, the daughter of my middle school shop teacher, and she is amazing. The journal wouldn’t happen without her), and she manages the budget, invoices, mailings, booking travel, and all of the many detail things that would kill me. The assistant editors are students who have been around a while, or who have taken my editing and design class. They manage their genre’s submissions, recommend stuff for editorial meetings or for rejection. I do that, too, to help clear out backlogs, but they handle a lot of it. The editorial assistants are all students. They read the work the assistant editors cull from Submittable. If it gets approved in the meeting, it goes up to the genre editors for final approval. I’m kind of in each of those steps, nudging. I’ve bypassed the readers on occasion, and passed stuff up that they didn’t like. It’s all a learning process for them. They are really sophisticated readers, but still not always paying enough attention.

How do you raise money?

Badly.

How many subscribers do you have? How many are people, libraries, swaps with other journals?

Around 100 subscribers. Another dozen libraries, and a half-dozen journal swaps.

What is your print run?

Now, it’s 400. We started at 1000, hoping to get picked up by Ingram (which demands 400 copies just for them). That hasn’t happened, alas. 1000 is enough to get onto an offset printer, and the quality is so much better. So that’s my aim, to get the subscriber base high enough to justify the expense. (Though it really is more cost effective on an offset printer, 2.05/copy vs. 3.25+/copy with a digital printer.)

What is the best form(s) of publicity? Do advertisements in other journals work?

The journal itself is our best publicity, followed by the authors. I try to design the book so that when people see it, they must pick it up. And I like it when our authors get excited about it, and start telling their friends about it. A great table at AWP doesn’t hurt.

Ads with other journals do work. I’ve seen it in cover letters. “I saw your ad in Redactions, and was intrigued …”. (I’ve really seen that.)

What’s the most enjoyable part of the journal for you?

I’m happy that I still get to do the design. If I had to choose between being the editor or being the designer, I’d probably pick designer.

Also, putting the journal together, once all the work is accepted. The interns have a big hand in that, and I just love watching them reason through an order. We place a big emphasis on the opening and closing sections, and they do a good job of helping see the entire arc of the issue.

Do you ever get lost in doing layout as you would when writing?

Absolutely.

How many times do you proofread the journal before sending it out?

Probably five times. After that, I have to stop. It could go on forever.

Do you proofread the proofs or do you just thumb through to make sure there are no glaring errors?

The latter. Widows and orphans, typos, and that’s it.

When you get the final product, do you look through it or are you too scared and already involved with this next issue?

The latter, again.

By the time the final copies arrive, are you bored with that issue already?

I wouldn’t say bored, but I’m already thinking about the shape of the next issue. But when it arrives, I’ve never sat down and read it. I know the work. I know it’s good.

What does your journal provide that other journals don’t or what do you do that other journals don’t?

I think one thing we do that not many other journals do is focusing so much on aesthetics. I want the entire experience of the journal to be beautiful, down to how it looks when we mail it out, where the shipping labels go. I can think of a number of journals who publish really great stuff, but just look like crap. Nobody has paid any attention to what the thing looks like, from the paper to the type to the margins. So I think we build a beautiful container.

I think our specifically faith-focused mission is also somewhat rare. There’s less than a dozen journals with our kind of mission. And of those, I think we are putting out some of the best work, and certainly the most aesthetically appealing journal. My goal with the journal is to reach a wider audience, to get into the hands of the “regular” lit journal audience. The work holds up. I want to teach people that Christian art, or art made by Christians and non-Christians doesn’t have to trite or cliché or boring.

The UPC is on the back cover. Typically, journals put that on the front cover. (I think it’s a law or something.) Why did you put it on the back cover? Why do you even have an UPC?

I put it on the back because it’s ugly, and mucks up the front. I’ve worked in bookstores, and it’s just as easy to scan a bar code on the front as it is on the back. We have the UPC to make it easier to sell to bookstores, which are reluctant to sell anything without a bar code of some sort. It helps them track inventory.

Do you have distribution? Who distributes for you? Where does the journal get sold?

We have distribution through Ubiquity, who specializes in selling journals to indie bookstores, which are more likely to carry a selection of literary journals. Ingram has turned us down twice for distribution, and I think that is largely a function of our longevity (they want to make sure we’ll be around for a while) and the decline of the big-box bookstore.

We’ve also started handling some of our own distribution, which is a bit labor and time intensive, but allows us to track copies more effectively. Ubiquity doesn’t provide any reporting on where the copies are going, which sucks. But I’ll get emails or texts from friends saying, “Hey, I saw the new issue at a store in Houston, looks great!” So I know they are out there. We also see occasional spikes in submissions and subscriptions from particular regions or towns, so I suspect that stores have copies thereabouts.

What part of working on the journal do you like least?

Budget stuff. At least once a year, I have to defend, usually in written form, the journal as a printed thing. “Why not just have it online? That’s free.” Administrators, trustees. People concerned with the bottom line, which I understand. My first response (which I have to restrain) is, “We cost under ten thousand dollars a year. How much to baseball uniforms cost? How much do these ridiculous university-emblazoned water bottles cost?” But there’s a significant value to the students who help staff the journal, and it’s hard for some folks to see past the economic argument, which isn’t even true.

Do you pay authors? What do you pay them?

Two copies. Someday, I’d like to pay money, but that will take some doing. If we can get some big donations and establish an endowment . . .

Do you think it is unethical to not pay authors in money or contributor copies?

Yes. All journals should at least be able to afford to pay in copies. The work is valuable; it’s what makes the journal what it is. Copies are at least a nod in that direction.

Thank you so much.

//

For the downloadable Rock & Sling Tip Sheet I made for the presentation, click Rock & Sling Tip Sheet.

28
Jan
13

Christian Wiman’s Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics ) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 10, which was published circa April 2007.

//

Christian Wiman's – Ambition and SurvivalChristian Wiman’s voice is strong & powerful in Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet (Copper Canyon Press), and if I were younger, before I knew who I was, before I knew my writing ways & its limits & its strengths, this book would have influenced my writing, as much as Ezra Pound’s essays did. Instead, Wiman is just influencing my thinking.

An early challenge of this book, a challenge that is discussed throughout the book in various ways, is a response to form. Wiman notes the argument of the critics that since:

our experience of the world is chaotic and fragmented, and because we’ve lost our faith not only in those abstractions by means of which men and women of the past ordered their lives but also in language itself, it would be naive to think that we could have such order in our art. (p 94-5)

Wiman responds to this argument:

What I am interested in, and what I want to focus on here, is a kind of closure that compromises itself, a poetry whose order is contested, even undermined, by its consciousness of the disorder that it at once repels and recognizes. (p 95)

And what underlies Wiman’s response are two thoughts. One, Wiman wants us to confront our conventions & forms. From that I extrapolate, we are the new generation, and this is our obligation. Wiman is shouting for my generation.

The second thought and what underlies much the book is the conflict that many poets/artists have – the separation of art and life. Should there be a split? Wiman thinks not. He wants more life in poetry. More experience in poetry. But he doesn’t want a life that is lived for an experience to put into poetry. He realizes that we live in a universe of a large-order through which we flounder in our own chaos and there is an inability to express that perfectly. So, is the poem “more authentic if rough and unfinished,” as critics would suggest? It’s a theme that keeps me thinking throughout the book.

Another theme is silence – the silence between the finished poem & the beginning of writing the next poem, and how the poet handles that silence. Wiman is quick to realize that all of us poets don’t write a poem a day (& I wonder how many of us younger poets actually do write a poem a day). For those who don’t write every day, there is much silence to fill. Wiman tells us why some poets drink – drinking fills the horrible silence (or perhaps quiets the screaming anxieties of not writing, either way there is silence that needs to be dealt with). Wiman, however, suggests writing prose, which is not the same as writing poetry, but it does rid the silence and the prose will have lots of attachments to the poet’s poetry. This theme of silence is explored with more intimacy and details throughout the book, though not directly.

Now, I want to talk about that Poundian voice I mentioned earlier. It comes through loud and clear in “Fourteen Fragments in Lieu of a Review.” Here’s the opening fragment from what was supposed to be a review of an anthology of sonnets.

There isn’t much literature there couldn’t well be less of. A four-hundred-page anthology of sonnets? It takes a real aberration of will to read straight through such a thing. Another man might win an egg eating contest, with similar feelings, I would imagine, of mild shock, equivocal accomplishment  obliterated taste.

Before I get further into the Pound voice, I need to side track for a moment. Anyone who wants to learn about sonnets, what sonnets should do, how they should behave, and how they work in larger view than iambic pentameter, voltas, etc., needs to read this essay. It’s a damn fine discussion that won’t be heard in the classroom, and he presents arguments/ideas, again, that make me think. New arguments and ideas. Now, returning to the Pound voice. Yes, Wiman is like my generation’s Pound. Both worked for Poetry magazine. Pound as Poetry’s foreign correspondent and Wiman as Poetry’s editor. Both are smart & influential. However, Wiman doesn’t come across as authoritative as Pound, in tone that is. Wiman is authoritative, but his authority comes across different. His tone is like what Pascal says and that Wiman quotes, though not in reference to himself. “One must have deeper motives and judge everything accordingly, but go on talking like an ordinary person.” This is what I like about Wiman. He talks smart, but he also talks ordinary. Yeah, I could have drink in a bar with this guy and have a good time chatting, whether it be about poetry or something else.

There’s much more to be said about this book, but not the room to do it. So now I must end this celebratory review, and I have three ways to end it, but I don’t know which way to choose, so here are my three endings.

One. I’ll leave you with these three out-of-context quotes that underscore the themes of Ambition and Survival.

[A] poem that is not in some inexplicable way beyond the will of the poet, is not a poem. (p 123)

There are varying depths of this internalization, though varying degrees to which a poet will inhabit, bridge, endure, ignore, enact (the verb will vary depending on the poet) the separation between experience and form, process and product, life and art, and one can see a sort of rift in literary history between what I’ll call, for simplicity’s sake, poets of observation and poets of culmination. (p 134).

I’m increasingly convinced that there is a direct correlation between the quality of the poem and the the poet’s capacity for suffering. (p 136)

Two. Ambition and Survival is really a search for this: how “[m]ore and more I want an art that is tied to life more directly” (p 23).

Three. I recommend Ambition and Survival to two types of people. One, those who write poetry. Two, those who write poetry & who are two to three years out of college & who now have to create their own writing energies in the absence of the energies a college created and radiated out, & who, in the absence of energy, are starting to question the significance of poetry in their life or the need to write it.//

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Wiman, Christian. Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2007.//

26
Jan
13

Steve Fellner’s Blind Date with Cavafy (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 10, which was published circa April 2007.

//

Steve Fellner's – Blind Date with Cavafy“How many men are worthy of a memory?” asks Steve Fellner in the poem “Blind Date with Cavafy.” I ask how many men are worthy of a fantasy. At least one – & it is Fellner in Blind Date with Cavafy (Marsh Hawk Press), which was the winner of the 2008 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry and the winner of the 2006 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize.

In these poems, we see how the fantastic thinks in Fellner, Cavafy, Socrates, Fellner’s family members, and more. More specifically, the book is a graph of Fellner’s mind with reality and fantasy as the x- and y-axes and with the poems curving towards the fantasy axis.

I think these fantasies, which are everyday fantasies, & not like dragons and fairies, allow Fellner, to a certain degree, to persist/survive in reality, even when the fantasy isn’t his. Consider his history teacher with Alzheimer’s who misremembers the date of the Spanish Civil War but the students later learn the correct date. Consider how this false date became a reality. A reality so real, more real than the correct date, that Fellner provides the false date as an answer in another class, & everyone believed him, “No one questioned it.” It’s this inaccuracy and how others grasp it that sustains Fellner. The fantasy of sustaining the false date & the memory of it “stopped / me [him] from killing myself [himself] / on at least nine different occasions.”

For Fellner, it’s the fantasy world that provides hope. Consider the lines from “Upon Discussing Whether We Should Condescend to Science-Fiction Writers,” where he is talking about aliens invading Earth.

   Let’s pretend we’ll take their advice
   [. . . ]
   Let’s pretend that on other planets seeing the end of infinity
   is even more common than winning $37,687,324.90 in the state lottery.
   Except you expect it to happen every other day.

And even though Fellner can be a god in these fantasies – he can create, script, and direct how he wants life to move forward – Fellner is still aware of the realities of life:

   Don’t yell
   too hard. You may wake up and realize life
   isn’t like that. It isn’t really like anything.
   But life does like itself and it needs you.

//

//

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Fellner, Steve. Blind Date with Cavafy. East Rockaway, NY: Marsh Hawk Press, 2007.//

20
Jan
13

Dan Gerber’s – A Primer on Parallel Lives (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 10, which was published circa April 2007.

//

Dan Gerber's – A Primer on Parallel LivesHoly cow, an American lyricist who’s accessible. What a rare find. And Dan Gerber is a damn good one in A Primer on Parallel Lives (Copper Canyon Press). He can even write narratives. What’s more, Gerber’s got a Spanish soul. A bloody, dusty, old Spanish soul. He’s got Machado, Lorca, and Jiménez all rolled up in him. And when he does the lyric, or the meditative, it speaks to the universe and to us. As for the Spanish soul, what do I mean by that? I mean: he risks the sentimental. He rubs right up against it, but, most important, the language is fresh, the images are new, and the language and images connect us humans and our souls. It’s a poetry that lets everyone in and excludes none. For example:

   Facing North

   Ninety billion galaxies in this one tiny universe –
   a billion seconds make thirty-two years.

   No matter how many ways we conceive it,
   this generous wedge called Ursa Major
   more than fills my sight.

   But now, as I turn to put out the lights
   and give my dog her bedtime cookie,
   my eyes become the handle of the great Milky Way,
   and carry it into the house.

Except for one line, this poem flirts with the sentimental, builds towards the sentimental, then yokes it all together in the final burst of the last line.

Gerber is also what I want to call a “vertical poet.” What do I mean by “vertical poet”? Well, let me divert my attentions for a moment. Vertical has nothing, or very little, to do with content or how the poem moves or with Li-Young Lee’s vertical moment. It has to do with staring while composing. From what I can tell of American poetry (and maybe English poetry in general), most of the older poets – over 50, over 100, six-feet under – wrote with pen or pencil on paper. They stared down at the page. Their eyes staring into the words/page (perhaps beyond). They hovered over what they wrote and revised. The back of their heads faced the universe, gods, and infinity. A conduit was established between the page, the poet’s mind/imagination, and the universe. Of course there are exceptions – Ezra Pound typing in a prison camp near Pisa, William Carlos Williams typing out those triple lines. Pound and Dr. Carlos (as Pound affectionately called W. C. Williams) faced the page and stared with a similar intensity as the pen/pencil poet. Poets like Ez and Dr. Carlos are horizontal poets. The former (the pen/pencil poets) are vertical poets.

Today in American poetry there seems to be more horizontal writers – and many of them write on the computer screen, as I am doing now. (Perhaps we should call them “neo-horizontal poets” as they use the screen instead of a piece of paper curling in front of them.) The neo-horizontal poet stares into the screen. The neo-horizontal poet tends to neglect the universe. And from what I’ve noticed, the lyric is dying (at least the comprehensible, non-ellipitcal lyric), and there is a predominance of the narrative, especially the narrative about the individual. There is nothing wrong with any of this, except the universe is being neglected and the lyric is disappearing. (The lyric is our oldest form of poetry, no?) With the neo-horizontal poets, there is more dedication to time instead of the obliteration of time. I mean, don’t all us poets want to obliterate time? When are we at our happiest? When we are writing. When we come out of our half-unconscious, mostly hypnagogic state, and realize that hours have gone by, when it only felt like 10, 20, or 30 minutes. The lyric poem best destroys time.

I’m not saying the vertical poet can’t be personal and narrative. They have been. But they are more often in both veins lyrical and narrative. (I’m including meditative poetry under lyrical poetry, by the way). But with the rise of the neo-horizontal poet has come the decline of the lyrical poem and the connection with the universe.

And as I said, Gerber is vertical. His poetry connects the universe. I’ll leave you this as an example:

   Six Miles Up

   The shadow of a hand brushes over the mountains,
   as if smoothing rumpled sheets.
   And now I see that the mountains are clouds.

   In my dreams,
   I search for what I won’t remember in the morning,
   but I do remember the searching.

   In Venice I ate cuttlefish, steamed
   in its own black ink,
   and now it’s coming out of my fingers.

   Across the aisle in a window seat,
   a man like me is
   reading a book in which words appear,
   tracing an indelible line
   through the invisible sky
   while the pilot’s skill keeps us flying.

//

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Gerber, Dan. A Primer on Parallel Lives. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2007.//

19
Jan
13

Christopher Kennedy’s Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 10, which was published circa April 2007.

//

Christopher Kennedy's – Encouragement for a Man Falling to His DeathYou could read the poems in Christopher Kennedy’s Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death (BOA Editions) & hear irreverence, and I imagine if I received them individually at Redactions, I would. Or you could read the whole of Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death, and realize that you are just hearing a tone of irreverence that is covering up fear, aloneness (“the germ / of [. . .] loneliness”), and absence (“when every presence became his [his father’s] absence”).

Yes, the speaker’s father was lost, but how he was lost is a mystery between what happened, what happened to someone else, and the memory splicing the two together. In “To the Man who Played the Violin and Fell from a Plank into a Vat of Molten Steel,” we learn of a violinist who fell into a vat of molten steel, but before he fell, he gave the speaker’s father, who was a fiddle player, his violin. Later in the poem, when the speaker reflects on when he was young and missing his father, his mother would comfort him, and then we hear a different story. The way the story is told, perhaps the person who fell in the vat was the speaker’s father, and this is suggested by the the tone and language of speaking.

   And every time the mother would say,
   Your father worked with a man from Portugal
   who played the violin, and one day at work,
   he fell from a plank into a vat of molten steel.

The tone and what precedes and the subject of the sentence imply the father died, and because the way the mother speaks implies it may be the violinist who fell into the vat. There’s an ambiguity here. Perhaps, it was in a house fire where his father died, as is hinted at in “My Father in the Fifth dimension.” Nonetheless, the father died somehow. However the father died, he is dead. And once when the speaker was a child, he tried to mend his dead father’s pants, but as he tries in “My Father’s Work Clothes,” his “hands keep folding, mysteriously, into prayer.”

This is what the speaker has to deal with from that point on – how to deal with his father’s death. As he grew, he must have learned to hide his fear through biting humor and irreverence  Consider the prose-poem, “Broken Saints.” It’s the day of his father’s funeral, and he is waiting for his babysitter to arrive. While he waits, he “bit the heads off plastic statues,” and then “arranged the headless bodies like bowling pins and rolled the heads at them until all the bodies fell down.” When the female babysitter arrives, “she shook her head” at what he had done, then:

She sat me down on the floor, and we began matching heads to bodies, gluing them together. The key, I learned, was eyeing the uneven necklines to see where the curves would mesh. They were never exact; the heads bowed slightly at times in prayer. And no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t hide their shame.

Already, we can begin to see the complexities of irreverence and the confrontation of death. Kennedy, throughout, becomes “a man of conviction in an era of who gives / a fuck.”//

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Kennedy, Christopher. Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 2007.//




The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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